Arminius on God's Call unto Salvation to All

Having elaborated on the doctrine of election, or predestination, insisting that the doctrine concerns "the Decree of the good pleasure of God in Christ by which He resolved within Himself from all eternity, to justify, adopt, and endow with everlasting life, to the praise of His own glorious grace, believers on whom He had decreed to bestow faith"1; he also confesses that this decree to save believers extends to eternity past, "because God does nothing in time which He has not decreed to do from all eternity."2 God has decreed, from eternity past nonetheless, some unto salvation -- those who believe in Christ -- those who were to be in union with Christ. (cf. Rom. 8:29, 30; 1 Cor. 1:21; Eph. 1:4, 5)

That admission from Arminius may appear surprising to those who are not familiar with his theology -- that God has decreed from all eternity, according to His own good pleasure in Christ, to justify, adopt and endow with salvation "believers on whom He had decreed to bestow faith." (emphasis added) For Arminius, the Christian scriptures merely teach these truths as a spiritual reality. God has elected to save in Christ those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21). Paul really wrote those words; this really is Paul's theology of election and salvation; he truly means that God has chosen to save believers, as did other authors of Scripture (cf. John 3:15, 16, 36; 4:14; 5:24, 40; 6:47; 6:50-58; 20:31; Rom 3:21-30; 4:3-5; 4:9, 11, 13, 16; 4:20-24; 5:1, 2; 9:30-33; 10:4; 10:9-13; 1 Cor 1:21; 15:1-2; Gal 2:15-16; 3:2-9; 3:11; 3:14, 22, 24; 3:26-28; Eph 1:13; 2:8; Phil 3:9; Heb 3:6, 14; 3:18-19; 4:2-3; 6:12; 1 John 2:23-25; 5:10-13, 20).

This truth, of course, is predicated upon the biblical notion that God does not save unbelievers and, therefore, He has not elected (pre-selected, chosen, predestined or predetermined) unbelievers unto salvation. (Mark 1:15; Luke 8:12; John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 16:31; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:22; 6:8; 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 1:19; 1 Tim. 1:16; Heb. 7:25; 11:6; 1 John 5:13) What the authors of the Christian scriptures do not teach is the theory that God has unconditionally chosen (pre-selected, elected) who will and will not believe in Christ and, hence, be saved. For Arminius, the calling or vocation of God to all sinners "denotes a total and entire act, consisting of all its parts whether essential or integral, what parts soever are necessary for the purpose of [all] being enabled to answer the Divine Vocation."3 (emphases added)

So, when God "calls" sinners unto Himself, in and through the Gospel and Person of Jesus Christ -- by means of the gracious inner work of the Holy Spirit -- all the necessary components of this "call" are enacted by God to the enabling of the depraved and spiritually-incapacitated individual to the answering of this call to faith in Christ and, thus, the reception of God's salvation. Arminius meets the challenge of his opponents who assume an irresistible call, using John 6:27, 44, 45, by responding: "Man determines himself, but not without grace: For free will is in concurrence with grace, so that, in determining, the one does not act without the other."4 This necessary and sufficient grace, then, is in the Reformed tradition, avoiding the twin errors of Calvinism and Pelagianism. Also, the fact that enabling grace is by nature necessary removes any concept or excuse or cause for boasting.

The divine call of God to sinners is "a gracious act of God in Christ, by which, through His word and Spirit, He calls forth [sinners], who are liable to condemnation and placed under the dominion of sin, from the condition of the [natural, sinful] life, and from the pollutions and corruptions of this world."5 This call incorporates being united "unto 'the fellowship of Jesus Christ,' and of His kingdom and its benefits; that, being united unto Him as their Head, they may derive from Him life ... sensation, motion, and a plenitude of every spiritual blessing, to the glory of God and their own salvation."6

Arminius parses the cause of God's call to all sinners thusly: the efficient cause is God the Father in the Son, the Son being "appointed by the Father to be the Mediator and the King of His church," but the cause of God the Father is administered "by the Spirit, that the Holy Spirit is Himself its Effector."7 The inwardly-moving cause is "the grace, mercy, and (philanthropy) 'love of God our Saviour toward [all]' ... by which He is inclined to relieve the misery of [sinners], and to impart unto [them] eternal felicity."8 This cause is disposed by "the wisdom and justice of God," by which grace the call is dispensed in a befitting manner and formed by the decree of His will.9

There is also an external cause and an instrumental cause motivating God to call helpless sinners, by an enabling grace, to salvation: the former is Christ's obedience and intercession; while the latter is the word of God by means of preaching. The instrumental cause of the Word, or the Gospel, involves God inwardly working in the mind and in the will, as He utilizes the Law in order to show sinners His justice and righteousness, and the Gospel in order to demonstrate His mercy and grace.10 Foreknowing who were to believe, He still calls all unto faith in Christ, so that no one is without excuse -- all are invited (cf. Matt. 22:9; John 1:9; Titus 2:11); those who respond by grace shall be saved.

Regarding God's enabling grace, this inward work of God in and through His Spirit meets the sinner while he or she is still in sin, being still "worldly, natural, animal, carnal, sinful, alienated from the life of God [cf. Eph. 2:12], and dead in sins [cf. Eph. 2:1]; and therefore unworthy to be called [unto salvation] ... unfit to answer to the call, unless by the gracious ... estimation of God they be accounted worthy [cf. Matt. 10:37, 38; 2 Thess. 1:5, 11; Rev. 3:4], and by His powerful operation they be rendered fit to comply with the [call]."11 (emphasis added) One is accounted worthy by one's union with Christ, the worthy One.

The sovereign goodness of God allows Him to the displaying of "the full and free power of not employing, for the conversion of [sinners], all the methods which are possible to Himself according to the treasures of His Wisdom and Power, and of bestowing unequal grace on those who are [in every respect] equals, and equal grace on those who are unequal, nay, of employing greater grace on those who are more wicked."12 For Arminius, God reserves the privilege and right to employ the means He so desires in attracting the attention of sinful people. The grace and the salvation is His to grant and, therefore, He reserves the right to the exercising of that grace as He sees fit.

The end or the goal of God's call unto salvation is that
they who have been called answer [or respond to that call] by faith to God and to Christ who gives the call, and that they thus become ... the covenanted people of God through Christ the Mediator of the New Covenant; and, after having become believers and parties to the covenant, that they love, fear, honour, and worship God and Christ, render in all things obedience to the Divine precepts "in righteousness and true holiness," and that by this means they "make their calling and election sure."13
The remote end or goal is "the Salvation of the elect [i.e., believers -- believers are the elect] and the Glory of God, in regard to which the very vocation to grace is a means ordained by God, yet through the appointment of God it is necessary to the communication of salvation."14 But this is a more glorious aspect of God's being, nature, and character than what is stated here. Thus Arminius continues:
The Glory of God, who is supremely wise, good, merciful, just, and powerful, is so luminously displayed in this communication both of His Grace and Glory, as deservedly to raise into rapturous admiration the minds of angels and of [all mortals], and to employ their loosened tongues in celebrating the praises of Jehovah.15
What is not intended by God, in the bestowal of His enabling grace, is "the rejection of the word of grace, the contemning [disdaining, scorning, despising] of the Divine Counsel, [and] the resistance offered to the Holy Spirit [by the sinner]." Why do some resist and reject God's grace and call to salvation? The proper cause is
the malice and hardness of the human heart. But this consequence is, not seldom, succeeded by another -- the just judgment of God avenging the contempt shown to His word and call, and the injury done to His Holy spirit; and from this judgment arise the blinding of the mind, the hardening of the heart, "the giving over to a reprobate mind," and "the delivering unto the power of Satan."16
The idea was submitted recently that the reason some Calvinists remain Calvinists is not necessarily because they wholeheartedly embrace Calvinism but because they seldom see a worthy theological alternative. They may view Arminianism in its purely Wesleyan form and reject it before considering Reformed Arminianism. (See the post "Arminius vs. Wesley" for the distinctions between classical Arminianism and Wesleyan Arminianism.) Or they may be confused by some Calvinist scholars and laypeople who have misrepresented classical Arminianism, falsely and erroneously relegating the theology to a regurgitation of Semi-Pelagianism, or perhaps overt Pelagianism. They may also think that Arminianism is works-oriented, merit-based, robs God of His rightful sovereignty or is tantamount to one saving him- or herself.

Not one of these elements offered above, however, is based on the theological facts regarding classical Arminianism (that it is Wesleyan, Semi-Pelagian, or Pelagian; that it is works-oriented, merit-based, robs God of His glory or grants an excuse for boasting in one saving oneself by his or her free-will choice to believe in Christ). My opinion is that, if more people would read Arminius himself instead of caricatures of his theology by Calvinists, Calvinism would appear less appealing. To this end I continue to strive in alerting the attention of whosoever is willing to read for themselves the primary works of Arminius.


1 Jacob Arminius, "Seventy-Nine Private Disputations: Disputation XV. On Divine Predestination," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:226.

2 Ibid., 2:227. Arminius repeats this again in his "On the Vocation of Men to Salvation," 2:235, which is being primarily quoted throughout the post.

3 Ibid., 2:230. R.C. Sproul confesses: "Arminius not only affirms the bondage of the will, but insists that natural man, being dead in sin, exists in a state of moral inability or impotence. What more could an Augustinian or Calvinist hope for from a theologian? Arminius then declares that the only remedy for man's fallen condition is the gracious operation of God's Spirit. The will of man is not free to do any good unless it is made free or liberated by the Son of God through the Spirit of God." See Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 128.

4 Ibid., 230-31, footnote.

5 Ibid., 2:232.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid., 2:233.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid., 2:233-34.

14 Ibid., 2:234.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.